The Maple Leafs staying the course with Sheldon Keefe is underwhelming at best

Photo credit:John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
9 months ago
Arguing against the Leafs keeping Sheldon Keefe often falls into an emotional argument over one based in evidence, as the regular season evidence generally makes things look pretty darn good for Sheldon Keefe. There are also plenty of people out there who believe that anything can happen in a seven game series and that it was a combination of goaltending and officiating that led to the Leafs not advancing in the playoffs. Okay.
While we are a few weeks removed from some confusing decisions like engaging in line-matching that led to Tavares, Marner, Matthews, and Nylander playing under 20 minutes a night in the playoffs, or his decision to move Alex Kerfoot up into the top six, or sticking with Mark Giordano and Justin Holl while they were clearly struggling in the playoffs, all of these things did happen.
There is the fact that he hasn’t found a way to get the best out of Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner in the playoffs and while other teams seem to arrive ready and prepared to face the Leafs in the playoffs, Toronto has spent the past few years chasing their opponents.
If Bobrovsky’s goaltending was the reason for the Leafs being eliminated perhaps equal credit needs to be given to Vasilevskiy for why the Leafs advanced to the second round.
The regular season with Keefe has been adequate. There have been some terrible starts to the year but the Leafs have managed to get themselves under control and I’m not so far gone down the “fire Keefe” path that I can’t appreciate the role that Keefe would have played in getting the Leafs turned around. Even a team as talented as the Leafs can spiral and we’ve seen a lot of that.
Toronto isn’t a cold calculated team that will go from puck drop to the final whistle controlling their opposition and dictating how the game is played. No, the Leafs a wildly swinging pendulum with highs and lows in every game that seem to warrant every emotion before ultimately relying on the superior skill of the Leafs to make the difference.
It really is the skill aspect of the Leafs that makes for the interesting debate about Keefe’s value. (Well, one of the interesting debates.)
Do the Leafs have enough skill with their core four, along with Rielly, Brodie, etc. that Toronto can be a top tier team regardless? Again, this is perhaps too critical of Keefe to say that he hasn’t given the Leafs anything to improve them. After the Mike Babcock era where everyone was being asked to be something they weren’t, it was refreshing to see Sheldon Keefe encourage players to play to their strengths and to try to use the best parts of their game. It was the right change of voice at the right time and there was some benefit.
For the length of Keefe’s tenure the selling point on him has been that he plays the players Kyle Dubas brings in the way they were intended to be played. The coach and GM being on the same page was the selling point for Keefe and perhaps there is a possibility that the Leafs might actually get more out of Keefe when his boss is his boss, not also his friend. It doesn’t seem likely that his best feature being gone will yield better results, but we’ve got nothing but wishful thinking at this point.
There is also the fact that the Leafs waiting deep into the offseason before deciding their direction with Keefe and not only limited themselves, but limited Keefe’s chances for finding work.
Really where we are at is that Brad Treliving seems to want to make the right decisions based on the right evidence, and at this point he hasn’t seen enough to say that Keefe isn’t his guy going forward or that he knows who the right coach is for the roster he is going to have moving forward.
Treliving gave Bob Hartley a two year run in Calgary before moving on from him. There is also the fact that Bill Peters, Glen Gulutzan, Geoff Ward, and Darryl Sutter weren’t particularly inspired choices to follow Hartley and the Leafs might in fact be better with a Dubas picked head coach than a Treliving one anyway.
While it is reported and likely that an extension is coming for Sheldon Keefe, the Leafs have made it a policy to cut ties with coaches regardless of the cost and while the deal would offer Keefe some financial security and maybe keep him out of Pittsburgh a little longer, it won’t hold up things if Treliving learns that Keefe isn’t the coach for him.
The decision seems underwhelming and when the Leafs are a team that should be trying to improve this is another commitment to the status quo, it is what is, and once again the organization seems to be calling on fans to be patient and see how things will play out.

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